Film Review: ‘How To Plan an Orgy in a Small Town’

how-to-plan-an-orgy-in-a-small-town
Courtesy of Slamdance Film Festival

A mildly amusing trifle that isn't nearly as naughty as its title might indicate.

Despite a generous sprinkling of anatomical references — many more verbal than visual — and a few scenes that play like parodies of activity in Cinemax-ready softcore porn, “How to Plan an Orgy in a Small Town” emerges as surprisingly tame fluff, a modestly amusing trifle scarcely saucier than those wink-wink naughty farces that were staples of the ’70s dinner-theater circuit. Theatrical prospects for this Canadian-produced comedy are iffy at best, and not just because, much like the event described in the title, it’s a diversion that even the avidly curious likely would enjoy most comfortably in their privacy of their homes.

Years after being slut-shamed by mean girls who interrupted her failed attempt to discard her virginity, sex columnist Cassie Cranston (Jewel Staite) reluctantly returns to her hometown of Beaver’s Ridge for the funeral of her estranged mother. Cassie isn’t exactly bereaved — her mom, the author of a successful series of children’s novels, was even more judgmental than the aforementioned mean girls — but she’s downright heartbroken when she learns she won’t be receiving a hefty inheritance.

Cassie had been counting on the cash to repay a large advance she received from a publisher eager for a book-length version of her salacious magazine essays. Unfortunately, Cassie’s sex columns have been mostly fiction, detailing experiences that were not merely exaggerated, but entirely invented.

On the other hand, even notoriety based on dishonesty can come in handy sometimes. When Cassie is confronted by former childhood acquaintances who resent her depicting them as uptight yokels in her columns, she challenges them to demonstrate their lack of inhibitions. One thing leads to another, an evening of group-sex misbehavior is proposed, and Cassie finds herself pressed into service as a nonparticipating activities director. It’s a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it. And besides, Cassie figures she can use the close encounters as fodder for a book titled — get ready for it — “How to Plan an Orgy in a Small Town.”

Not at all surprisingly, things don’t go according to plan. Evidencing varying degrees of enthusiasm and embarrassment, desperation and discomfort, the participants — including grown-up mean girl Heather (Lauren Lee Smith), who has ulterior motives for seeking multiple sex partners; Adam (Ennis Esmer), Cassie’s former sweetheart, now improbably married to Heather; Bruce (Mark O’Brien), an over-eager would-be sexual buccaneer; Chester (Jonas Chernick), a music-store owner who may be too sweet-natured and quick-triggered for his own good; and Polly (Tommie-Amber Pirie), a store clerk who seems to be channeling a “Reality Bites”-era Janeane Garofalo  — require more than one get-together before they can really get down.

For all its risque jokes and broadly played sight gags involving improvised lubricants, premature ejaculation and cunnilingus marathons, “How to Plan an Orgy in a Small Town” has the squishy-soft heart of a routine romantic comedy. Writer-director Jeremy Lalonde takes care to provide some degree of satisfaction for each of his main characters — including a nerdy video gamer (Kristian Bruun) and a cynical sexpot (Katharine Isabelle) — but places his greatest emphasis on reuniting long-separated soul mates. And the, ahem, climax of the film is the most exuberantly cheery instance of group streaking in recent memory.

The performances are wildly uneven, suggesting that Lalonde rarely advised his players to take it down a notch. As a result, a few of the sporadic “serious” moments feel forced, if not downright fraudulent. But James McGowan manages to steal every scene that isn’t bolted to the floor with equal measures of sly understatement and wanton lewdness as Spencer, the most relaxed and randy of the orgy guests. You can’t help suspecting this character is a veteran of several similar events. And his stamina is impressive: He gives a licking, but keeps on ticking.

Production values are, in sharp contrast to some of the other male guests, consistently adequate.

Film Review: 'How To Plan an Orgy in a Small Town'

Reviewed online, Houston, Jan. 22, 2016. (In Slamdance Film Festival — Beyond.) Running time: 101 MIN.

Production

(Canada) A Neophyte Prods. production in association with Gyro Park Prods. Produced by Jordan Walker. Chris Bennett. Executive producers, Avi Federgreen, Ryan Goldhar, Jeremy Lalonde, Ennis Esmer, Jewel Staite.

Crew

Directed, written, edited by Jeremy Lalonde. Camera (color), D. Gregor Hagey; music, Jeff Toyne; music supervisor, Eli Klein; production designer, Danielle Dahota; art director, Matt Bianchi; costume designer, Marissa Schwartz; assistant director, Charles Smith; casting, Jenny Lewis, Sara Kay.

With

Jewel Staite, Ennis Esmer, Lauren Lee Smith, Katharine Isabelle, Mark O’Brien, Jonas Chernick, Tommie-Amber Pirie, James McGowan, Kristian Bruun, Gugun Deep Singh, Natalie Brown, Lauren Holly, Zoe Cleland.

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  1. Rob says:

    I only watched this because I was hoping to see Jewel Staite nude… but she was the most dressed of the whole cast. Really disappointing.. and shes getting old now, so I’m worried I may never get to see that glorious tushie in all its glory.

  2. JD says:

    The idea is good, and maybe not executed all bad … but the uptight use of nudity kills the mood.

    Yes, even while filming such a topic, you don’t need to go all porn; but if you can’t work relaxed with nudity: stay the hell away from it ! In the finale, the scenes seems just set to avoid any sensual view. Lets call it “prude nude” ! If the cast isn’t up for it you should better film it complete dressed or in some nude-suits: then it would be at least art !

    Nice try, but No !

  3. Audrey Eraud says:

    For my part, this movie (like any Jeremy stuff btw, is a Bijou, as we say in France. It’s all Jeremy stuff, if you know a bit what we do : a title where you can expect something a bit dirty or other, and when you watch the movie, you realize something that shake your heart, your feelings. So much humanity in his movies, so much feeligns, so much .. “us” ! I mean all of this could definitely happen to any of us, finally ! Jeremy stuffs, and he does it again here with “How to Plan An Orgy In A Small Town” mxed very well between big laughs, “poignante” storyline, smartness, humanity, and are very inspiring and make you stop and think.
    This movie is just a Masterpiece !
    Before see this movie, if someone would ask you “Can you imagine you in a middle of an orgy ?”, the most will answer something like : “What ?!! ewww .. no !”. Re-ask it after seeing this movie. You would think something like this can totally happen to you, and find yourself in the middle of something like this lol ! It came naturally in the movie, including in an orgy, people like .. us. So you never what could happen to you lol !
    And I think it’s such a smart trick and love from Jeremy. He’s really good and the only one I know who can do this, and surprise this way the expectations of people, from just reading a title of a movie, and finally discover what is it behind.

    Well, BRAVO Jeremy, and can’t wait your next projects ! :)

  4. Mike S says:

    Call me when the audience stops laughing – ’cause the audience I was in at Slamdance went crazy for it.

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